Howdy, neighbors!

Howdy, folks! Here are some reviews of the new country, bluegrass and Americana records that I had the good fortune to listen to in December, 2010. This page gets updated throughout the month, so check back if you can... Also, check out my full Guide To Hick Music for a bazillion more record reviews and artist profiles.

This month:
Mandy Barnett "Winter Wonderland" (Crackerbarrel)
Gary Bennett "You Are Never Nice To Me" (EP) (Raucous)
Gary Bennett "My Ol' Guitar" (Raucous)
Elvis Costello "National Ransom" (Concord)
Matt Gary "I'm Just Sayin' " (EP) (Quarterback)
Horse Opera "Sounds Of The Desert" (Telewreck)
James Hyland & The Joint Chiefs "Celestial Navigation" (Ananaki)
Jim Lauderdale "Patchwork River" (Emergent)
Shelby Lynne "Merry Christmas" (Everso)
Jesse McReynolds "Songs Of The Grateful Dead" (Woodstock)
Elvis Presley "The Complete Elvis Presley Masters" (RCA Legacy)
Johnny Rodriguez "Introducing Johnny Rodriguez/All I Ever Meant To Do Was Sing" (Hux)
Conway Twitty "Conway Twitty Sings/Look Into My Teardrops" (Poker)
Conway Twitty "Conway Twitty Country/Here's Conway Twitty" (Poker)
Conway Twitty "Next In Line/Darling, You Know I Wouldn't Lie" (Poker)
Conway Twitty "I Love You More Today/To See My Angel Cry" (Poker)
Malcolm Yelvington "Rockin' With My Baby" (Snapper)
Various Artists "THE IMUS RANCH RECORD, v.2" (New West)

New Stuff: December, 2010

Mandy Barnett "Winter Wonderland" (Crackerbarrel, 2010)
Yes, indeed, it's that time of year again and my Hillbilly Holiday Christmas Music Guide has been fully updated and is ready for your approval. Join Ms. Barnett and others in this twangy annual ritual...

Gary Bennett "My Ol' Guitar" (Raucous, 2010)
Solo stuff from one of the founding members of the now-dormant Nashville bar-band, BR5-49...

Gary Bennett "You Are Never Nice To Me" (EP) (Raucous, 2010)

Elvis Costello "National Ransom" (Concord Music Group, 2010)
(Produced by T Bone Burnett)

The second set of Costello's country-roots explorations with his amorphous new twangband, The Sugarcanes, which includes Americana icons Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller, bluegrassers such as Mike Compton, Jerry Douglas and Stuart Duncan, as well as rootsy rockers like album producer T Bone Burnett, guitarist Marc Ribot, and a guy named Steve Nieve who used to be in a rock band called the Attractions. This disc has a more relaxed, simpler, less self-consciously "country" vibe than the last one, and feels much mellower and more listenable (at least for me...) I still have absolutely no idea what Costello is singing about (haven't for years) but I did enjoy this album. Definitely worth checking out!

Matt Gary "I'm Just Sayin' " (EP) (Quarterback, 2010)
I could see this guy making it big. This indie-released EP is very faithful to generic, guy-oriented, modern Nashville pop-country conventions: there are the ringing, vaguely U2-ish electric guitars, the appeals to nostalgia and simple virtues (as on "The Days You Live For" which evokes milestones such as buying your first car and saying "I do" at the altar...) and even a novelty number that's so dumb that it might just be a hit ("Can't Take Her Anywhere" in which his girlfriend isn't very portable not because she's difficult or weird, but because she's so freakin' hot, that everyone always flips out whenever she's around...) Gary doesn't have the world's greatest voice, but he sounds about as "okay" as most of the other dudes in the Top Country charts today; a little bit of extra ooompf on the mix, and he's golden. I'm sure there are about a bazillion well-produced demos just like this out there these days, but I'm still curious to see how things go for this guy. Only time will tell!

Horse Opera "Sounds Of The Desert" (Telewreck, 2010)
Some nice original indiebilly from Texas... Lots of good original songs and plenty of twang!

James Hyland & The Joint Chiefs "Celestial Navigation" (Ananaki, 2010)
(Produced by Stephen Doster)

A deliciously mellow, sweetly produced, stoner-ific acousto-country set, basically sounding like a multi-song remix of Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold," with gently chiming acoustic guitars, subtle drums, and lots of sweet, spacy pedal steel. The lyrics are kind of gauzy and carefree, which generally feels fine (although on a tune or two, it gets a bit twee...) All in all, this is a lovely record, one that's comfy and comforting... Another record that got stuck, pleasantly, in frequent rotation on the old home hi-fi... Highly recommended. (Available through James Hyland's website)

Wanda Jackson & The Continentals "Merry Christmas, Baby" (Vampirette, 2010)

Jim Lauderdale "Patchwork River: Songs By Robert Hunter And Jim Lauderdale" (Emergent, 2010)

Loretta Lynn/Various Artists "COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER: A TRIBUTE TO LORETTA LYNN" (Sony, 2010)
The great Loretta Lynn, the indisputable grand dame of classic country, presides over her own tribute album, with contributors including Sheryl Crow, Steve Earle, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Allison Moorer, Carrie Underwood, The White Stripes, Lucinda Williams, Gretchen Wilson, Lee Ann Womack and others... It's a class act, kids!

Shelby Lynne "Merry Christmas" (Everso, 2010)

Jesse McReynolds "Songs Of The Grateful Dead" (Woodstock, 2010)
One of the last living lions of the golden age of bluegrass, Jesse McReynolds was half of the brother duo of Jim & Jesse, and one of the finest and most distinctive mandolinists of the 1950s... Here, he brings his bluegrass-folkie roots full circle, paying homage to the Grateful Dead, a hippie band led by guitarist Jerry Garcia, who is said to have been a big Jim & Jesse fan himself, back in his jug-band days. Backing McReynolds are some old hippies -- friends of Jerry -- and the vibe is pretty loose; there may be a bit of a stylistic mismatch, but it's an interesting effort from an old-timer like McReynolds... And, boy, look at how much have the Dead worked their way into the roots music mainstream! What a trip, man.

Elvis Presley "The Complete Elvis Presley Masters" (RCA Legacy, 2010)
It'll cost you a pretty penny, but this limited-run, 30-CD box set (apparently) includes every studio master Elvis Presley recorded or released during his lifetime, plus a bunch of studio outtakes and unreleased material... Looking for "Clambake" or a demo session of "His Latest Flame"? Or just wanna crank "Jailhouse Rock" up real loud? Well... here ya go! And, yep, there's plenty of twangy country stuff in there, too. I'm sure that the most ardent Elvis bootleggers will moan about some rare recording or another being missing from this, but for most normal mortals, this is a pretty impressive set. Uhh-uh-huhh!!

Johnny Rodriguez "Introducing Johnny Rodriguez/All I Ever Meant To Do Was Sing" (Hux, 2010)
The first two albums, both from 1973, by country crooner Johnny Rodriguez, re-released on a single CD. Long out of print, these will come as a welcome resource for the devoted '70s country fan.

Conway Twitty "Conway Twitty Sings/Look Into My Teardrops" (Decca, 1966/1967)
The late, great Conway Twitty is one of those artists who had so many chart-topping, Number One singles that a huge chunk of his non-charting material lays largely forgotten by many country fans. This series of "two-fer" reissues brings back several of his earliest albums on the Decca label, released after teen idol Twitty "went country" in the mid-1960s. This disc combines two of Twitty's early albums on Decca Records: Conway Twitty Sings, from 1966 and Look Into My Teardrops, from 1967... A real treat for longtime fans, as well as for younger country fans eager to delve into Nashville's misty countrypolitan past.

Conway Twitty "Conway Twitty Country/Here's Conway Twitty" (Decca, 1966/1968)

Conway Twitty "Next In Line/Darling, You Know I Wouldn't Lie" (Decca, 1968/1969)

Conway Twitty "I Love You More Today/To See My Angel Cry" (Decca, 1969/1070)

Steve Wariner "Guitar Christmas" (SelecTone, 2010)

Malcolm Yelvington "Rockin' With My Baby" (Snapper, 2010)
One of those oddball hillbilly artists who wound up in the orbit of Sun Records during the early days of the rock'n'roll/rockabilly scene. Although he had a few thumping, rhythm-oriented hits (notably "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" and "Yakety Yak") and he made several rock-themed, electrified recordings, Yelvington was definitely a hardcore hick singer, and there's some nice, solid country on here as well. Cool blues, too. The only stuff that doesn't work, really, are the pop ballads -- he was one of those guys who had a voice that made Ernest Tubb sound like Pavarotti -- but even these misfires are fun, in a so-bad-it's-great kind of way. On uptempo material, though, he's great. Definitely worth checking out!

Various Artists "THE IMUS RANCH RECORD, v.2" (New West, 2010)
I'm not a big commercial radio listener, so I've actually never heard the Don Imus show, although I did have some inkling that he's a fan and champion of various kinds of roots music, and likes to have guests come in and play live on his show. (Good for him!) He also enjoys having them do cover versions of famous songs, sometimes with unexpected stylistic combinations (rockers doing country tunes, twangsters covering oldies, etc.) This is the second volume of a series collecting these cover songs, and there are some nice tracks for fans to enjoy. Artists include Hayes Carll, Elizabeth Cook, Kinky Friedman, Levon Helm, Jamey Johnson, Charlie Robison and Delbert McClinton (and from the rock side of the street, Cheap Trick, Adam Duritz and others...) I hear Volume One is fun as well!

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